KLab Korner Office — The Value of Africana Studies — Nikaya Manley CMC ‘19

For Black History Month, the Korner Office is featuring Black changemakers and entrepreneurs who have turned small investments into big businesses.

This week’s Korner Office column highlights the Intercollegiate Department of Africana Studies and features Nikaya Manley ’19, who dual majored in Africana Studies and Government. Africana Studies, which is available through Pitzer College, Pomona College, and Scripps College, “offers a multidisciplinary curriculum that examines the experiences of African, African American, and Caribbean people from the liberal arts perspective.”

Did you know that you wanted to major in Africana Studies when you got to college? If not, what made you want to major in it?

I actually didn’t even know that Africana Studies was a major when I got to college. I thought that I wanted to major in political science or government and go to law school. I wanted to go to law school because I was interested in Black people and Black issues. When I got to CMC, I knew that I wanted to surround myself with Black community by taking classes taught by Black professors with Black students, so that’s when I started to do more research on the Africana Studies major. I took Introduction to Africana Studies and the rest is history. My Africana Studies and government classes overlapped so seamlessly. I was hooked.

What was your favorite Africana Studies class and professor?

I took all of my favorite classes my senior year of college. My all-time favorite class was Afrofuturism with Professor Valerie Thomas at Pomona College. She also taught an Africana wellness class and that is a close second because it was so therapeutic. She was a brilliant professor and fostered an environment that wasn’t hypercompetitive. I loved how she incorporated so many different types of media into her classes. It’s hard to pick just a few favorites because I genuinely loved what I was learning in each of my Africana Studies classes.

What kinds of support did your Africana Studies professors give you?

Professor Maryan Soliman was my academic advisor, but all of my Africana Studies professors went beyond their job description. Sometimes I felt bad that so few Black professors had to fill that role for so many Black students, but I was so grateful for everything that they did. They definitely had their expectations for the classroom, but at the end of the day, they knew that we were going through a lot outside of the classroom and they were so understanding.

What Africana Studies classes should non-Africana Studies majors take?

No matter your major, everyone should take Introduction to Africana Studies. It taught me so much about why this discipline and curriculum is necessary in every single school, no matter the level. My concentration in Africana Studies was history and the content from Intro debunked and replaced most of the material that I had learned in previous history classes. I would also recommend Afro-Latin American History with Professor April Mayes at Pomona College. That class was phenomenal!

What is one thing that you have learned in Africana Studies that you think everyone should know?

During my sophomore year, I took Political Philosophy and Africana Political Philosophy simultaneously. Put simply, Political Philosophy was told through the white perspective and the latter was told through the Africana perspective. One thing that I took away from that experience was that white supremacy is a founding political philosophy of American politics. And the interesting thing is that white supremacy was not brought up once in Political Philosophy. Everyone should and needs to know that white supremacy runs deep in this country.

What does the typical Africana Studies class look like? What’s the tone of the class?

I think it really depends on the class. Most classes are more traditional, discussion-based classes where topics can get really theoretical. Oftentimes, discussion got really deep, and sometimes triggering, but other times it was really empowering. On the flip side, I know a lot of people who took Africana art classes, which set an entirely different tone. It was interesting to see the broad spectrum of Blackness that appeared in all of these classes and how interconnected they all were.

What was the biggest challenge that you faced as a student? What was the most challenging course for you?

I struggled a lot finding my place at Claremont, but I was really interested and motivated by Africana Studies. The two most challenging classes were Africana Political Theory and Afro-Latin American History. It was hard to grasp the concepts in my political theory class in a way that was meaningful to me. It’s easy to read something and write a paper, but it’s hard to apply that theory to practice. In Afro-Latin American History, we partnered with a community home in Claremont and visited a detention center in Adelanto, which was rewarding, but a lot of work.

What advice would you give to a student who is undecided but is interested in Africana Studies as a major?

If you want to study Africana, take intro level classes and see how you like it! There are a bunch of different concentrations within Africana Studies, so you can really narrow it down to what you’re interested in. This major embodies a love for Blackness that I wasn’t able to find anywhere else and it was genuinely my saving grace. I remember that there were so many people who weren’t majoring in Africana Studies, but I would see in my classes because they needed that space for themselves. Non-majors were always welcomed and encouraged!

How has majoring in Africana Studies changed your day-to-day life and career?

Africana Studies really brought me out of my shell and helped me make so many friends at the 5Cs. I’m still, if not more, passionate about Africana Studies than I was when I was at Claremont. I still read the same authors and thinkers that I discovered in my Africana Studies classes. My beliefs, morals, politics, and values are guided by anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-racist, pan-African ways of thought. I try to work and volunteer for businesses and organizations that embody those things.

What are you currently doing?

I graduated from CMC two years ago and I currently live and work in New York City at a justice reform nonprofit. I also work with my middle school to transform the way that they teach history and social studies. I often think how amazing it would be if I could just copy and paste what I learned through my Africana studies classes and make it understandable for K-12 education.

Kravis Lab for Social Impact’s “Korner Office” is a spinoff of David Gelles’ “Corner Office” column in the New York Times’s Sunday Business section. The Korner Office includes snippets of conversations with changemakers and social entrepreneurs. This interview was conducted by Kravis Lab for Social Impact’s Media & Marketing Assistant, Aishat Jimoh, and the column was written by Team Lead, Abby Parrish ‘23.